Natural Stat Trick
Don’t look now, but the Hawks have put together two quality games. It sure is nice to watch the Hawks plunge the knife every once in a while. Let’s do the bullets.
– This may have been the best game Erik Gustafsson has played as a Blackhawk. He started 15 seconds in, keeping a puck that squeaked by Ward from farting across the goal line. That’s the kind of goal that’s been typical of the Hawks of late (and Ward when he’s gotten his chances in the crease), so having Gustafsson tidy it up early was absolutely necessary.
From there, Gustafsson was a force, plowing home a PP goal, setting up Kane’s empty-net backbreaker with a stretch pass from his own zone, and looking downright responsible in his own end. Though his CF% was 44+, when adjusting for score and venue, it sat just north of 50%. Given that he and Keith were on the ice for 24 minutes apiece and played primarily against the Klingberg–Benn–Seguin trifecta, you’ll take that every day. If this is the kind of game Gustafsson can play with any regularity, he could be a second-pairing guy with fringe first-pairing potential. There’s still a long way to go, but you love to see games like this. The offensive potential is there, and it throbs when it wants to.
– Let’s talk about that PP goal. Fifth Feather often says that it’s movement rather than Annette Frontpresence that leads to the best scoring opportunities, and the PP was a perfect example.
The Hawks were set in a 1–3–1, with Strome in front of the net; Gustafsson at the point; and Top Cat, Toews, and Kane going left to right. Rather than handing the puck off to Kane and having all four guys watch him stick handle, the Hawks elected to let Gus take the lead. With Toews roaming around in the mid-slot and acting as a dual retriever/safety valve, Gus, Top Cat, and Kane had more room to play a triangle passing scheme. Kane also had the freedom to skate on either side, with Top Cat and Gus rotating to fill, and that strategy is what led to the goal. With Faska missing his stick, Kane broke the script and skated around him to DeBrincat’s spot on the far-board circle. DeBrincat cycled to the point and Gus dropped lower toward the circle on the near boards as the Stars defense sagged, leaving DeBrincat and Gus all the space in the world to play catch and open a lane. Once Gus got the return pass, he had all the time and space in the world, and it was because the Stars had to keep an eye on Toews in the middle and Kane wherever Kane decided to be.
Sure, Strome was in front screening, but the movement on that PP was something I haven’t seen from the Hawks in a long, long time. It was simply gorgeous.
– Patrick Kane was spry tonight. His backhander in the second was special, and his skating and vision set up the PP goal. That creep can roll.
– Cam Ward had himself a nice game. Sure, he did something you don’t often see—whiffing on covering the puck with his glove, leading to the Stars’s second goal—and he looked stabby and gooey at times, but he made several high-danger saves too. The defense wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in front of him tonight, which certainly helps.
– I’m not going to be too hard on Carl Dahlstrom, given that he’s been thrown into the deep end. But he probably could have done more to prevent the Stars’s first goal. He got beaten both to and off the puck by a streaking Gurianov, even though it looked like Dahlstrom had a better angle as the play was developing. He then overcommitted trying to stop Benn’s pass after Benn cut back behind the net, leaving Seguin all the room in the world. Although the real culprit on this goal is the Fels Motherfuck, because saying Seguin couldn’t throw a grape in the ocean in the preview was just begging for him to score.
– It mostly worked out tonight, but I’m still baffled that Artem Anisimov gets to play with Strome and Kane. Granted, his pass from the near boards to set up Kane’s goal early in the second was nice. But after that? In the lead up to Seguin’s goal, Strome and Anisimov had a 2-on-1 developing. Watching Anisimov and Strome try to execute a 2-on-1 is like watching slugs fuck. Strome just kept waiting for Anisimov to beat his man, and he may as well have tried to light water on fire. Strome probably should have taken that shot, but you know who would have made it to the spot he needed to be at? Alex DeBrincat, who continues to prove he isn’t a third liner.
– Which means that of course DeBrincat scored on the third line. Credit to Kampf for getting enough of the puck on the faceoff to give Sikura a chance to complete the set play, dropping the puck onto a waiting DeBrincat’s stick and past THE BISHOP! Though the fancy stats don’t do DeBrincat justice, he had a few good takeaways to go with a few bad giveaways. All in all, a definitely-not-a-third-liner performance.
– I’m not sure what Dominik Kahun is, but it doesn’t look like he’s bad. He led the Hawks with a 56 CF% on the night. He, Toews, and Saad clicked well tonight. Brandon Saad was a force in the first and good throughout as well. And of course, Toews’s renaissance continues. The Hawks may not have a ton going for them right now, but the top line looks legit.
– Our sweet Irish son was having himself an alright game before Tyler “I completely deserve my last name” Pitlick took a page out of the Tom Wilson Being a Horse’s Ass for Dummies book and drove his elbow directly into his mush. With all the blood spilling on the ice, it looked to be a broken nose, and in a best-case scenario, that’s all it will be. Like Gustafsson, Murphy’s raw CF% wasn’t great (44+), but adjusted for score and venue, it was a robust 51+ despite facing mostly Benn, Seguin, and Klingberg. Small sample sizes be damned: Murphy has been the best Hawks D-man overall, and they can’t afford for him to miss more time.
What’s baffling is that Pitlick didn’t get a call on his cheap shot. He had more than enough time to adjust to the play, which happened smack dab in the middle of the ice as the Stars were starting a breakaway. That the refs missed the call was nearly as egregious as Pitlick’s outright assclownery. Pitlick saw Murphy over his shoulder and drove his elbow into his head anyway. What a dickhead. I hope he has a bad Christmas.
– Brendan Perlini continued his tour de force of being really fast and having no finish. Still, you like his straight-ahead speed, which is obscene at times. THE BISHOP! did a fine job of stuffing him twice on a breakaway midway through the first, but Perlini got his, potting the final empty netter and icing the game.
– Gustav Forsling looked fine tonight. If he can continue to look fine, that would be OK with us.
Two wins in a row feels nice, especially since the Hawks haven’t looked overmatched for the most part. Tomorrow will be a true test against the nightmare that is the Avalanche. Collin Delia would do well to smoke ‘em if he’s got ‘em, because it’s not going to get much tougher than what he’s going to see tomorrow.
But tonight, we said we were hungry and they gave us meat. Get down, make love.
Beer du Jour: Miller High Life
Line of the Night: “Hawks Win!” – Pat Foley with a minute left